NEW YORK (AP) -- Evian is giving itself a facelift to keep up with its sleek, young competitors on store shelves.
The water, which is owned by French food and beverage company Danone, is unveiling a new bottle for the first time in 14 years as it looks to reinvigorate its image and win back market share in the premium water category. Instead of the contoured bottle that has long defined the brand, the new look has cleaner lines, reminiscent of the cylinder-like shape of the Smartwater bottle.
Evian's makeover comes at a critical time, given the brand's languishing sales performance in an industry where looks play such a big role.
Of course, premium waters such as Evian, Fiji and Smartwater are able to command higher prices in large part because of the claims they make about how they're sourced or processed. But the superficial factor is high, too: distinct bottle shapes set them apart and bestow a sense of status.
"People buy these brands to display them," said John Sicher, editor of Beverage Digest, an industry tracker. "They don't want a bottle that looks like it's a private label product."
Evian, which is sourced from springs in the French Alps, entered the U.S. market in 1978 and for many years was synonymous with premium water. In recent years, however, it has lost market share with the rise of newer players such as Coca-Cola's Smartwater and Fiji, which comes in rectangular bottles and is owned by Roll Global, the maker of Pom Wonderful.
Last year, Evian's sales volume rose just 0.4 percent, compared with a 19 percent increase for Smartwater and a 4 percent increase for Fiji, according to Beverage Digest. And its market share was just 0.3 percent of the bottled water category, down from 1.2 percent a decade earlier.
Eric O'Toole, president of Danone Waters North America, noted that Evian's contoured bottle was original when it first arrived in the U.S. but that it became more commonplace over the years as competitors imitated it. More recently, he said the trend has shifted toward cleaner lines.
"What the other waters did was put pressure on us to contemporize Evian," O'Toole said. "We realized that our bottle had become a little bit old and dated."
Evian's push to win over more customers comes as consumption of bottled water has surged over the past decade, with Americans cutting back on soda and other sugary drinks. But the bulk of that growth has come from more affordable waters, such as Nestle's Poland Spring and the smaller store brands that are typically sold in bulk cases at supermarkets.
For major companies such as Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc., selling water in those big cases isn't as profitable as selling heavily marketed drinks like soda or sports drinks.
Premium waters are different, however, because people are willing to fork over more money for them too. Evian, for example, can cost between 20 percent and 80 percent more than other bottled waters depending on the package size, O'Toole said.
The advantages of such premium waters are debatable, of course, with each brand's popularity hinging on claims of what makes them unique. Evian's new labels, for example, will include a short explainer on the back that states "each drop filters through layers of mineral-rich glacial sands" in the French Alps.
Fiji, meanwhile, claims to be from an underground aquifer "hundreds of feet below the edges of a rainforest." And Smartwater boasts of being "vapor distilled," meaning that Coca-Cola essentially puts tap water through a process that strips out the chemicals, then "re-mineralizes" it to improve the taste.
Beyond the story lines of what makes their waters special, however, Evian's new bottle underscores the importance of appearances. In addition to the cleaner lines, the bottle will bear a label with a simplified logo that's affixed like a sticker, rather than a wraparound label that's held together by glue. But it will still have a blue tint and ridges at the top intended to evoke the French Alps.
It debuts in the U.S. next month, starting with the 330 mL and 500 mL bottles, with an online and print ad campaign set for July. Japan and Canada will get the new bottles toward the end of the summer.
Timing for Europe, including France, hasn't yet been determined.
Follow Candice Choi at www.twitter.com/candicechoi